With a smile as wide as the Cooper River, 82-year-old Clara Faye Fulton firmly held a sign saying she was the 500th patient at Trident Medical Center to have an innovative minimally invasive heart procedure. The implanted device will reduce her risk for stroke, one of South Carolina’s leading causes of death and disability.
The procedure was performed by electrophysiologist Darren Sidney, M.D. He and Dr. Frank Cuoco at Charleston Heart Specialists lead one of South Carolina’s largest electrophysiology programs. The research the two physicians are conducting means their patients, who come from nearly every county in South Carolina to Trident Medical Center, are often the first in the nation to benefit from new technology.
“We operate two full-time electrophysiology labs and are doing nearly 10 cases a day, that includes ablations, pacemakers and defibrillators,” said Dr. Sidney. “It would not be possible without our excellent echocardiogram and radiology teams.”
Dr. Cuoco added, “The nurse practitioners, nurse navigators and other clinicians on Trident Medical Center’s heart team all have a ‘patient first’ mindset, and it shows in the national five-star quality and patient experience ratings we’ve earned.”
Cardiologist Michael Craig, M.D., practiced at a large academic center for 20 years before joining Trident Medical Center. He specializes in a relatively Frank Cuoco, M.D. new subspecialty called advanced heart failure. As the medical director of the Trident Heart Failure Clinic, he consults daily with heart specialists representing electrophysiology, interventional cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery.
“A lot of medical centers talk about their specialties, but I think it’s the whole team at Trident Medical Center that sets them apart,” said Dr. Craig, who grew up in Charleston. “You walk down the hall and everyone from our environmental services colleagues to the CEO smiles and asks how you’re doing. For a disease like the one I treat, which is a lifetime disease, everyone matters.”
Recently, Healthgrades awarded both Trident Health hospitals, 321-bed Trident Medical Center and 124-bed Summerville Medical Center, its America’s 250 Best Hospitals™ designation. Jane Appleby, M.D., Trident Health System’s chief medical officer, said, “This is important to our patients and their families because it means, according to Healthgrades, Trident and Summerville Medical Centers are among the top 5% of the nearly 4,500 hospitals in the U.S. they reviewed for clinical excellence in more than 30 outcomes and conditions.”
Cardiovascular surgeon James Benner, M.D., with Palmetto Cardiovascular & Thoracic Associates, has been on the hospital’s medical staff for more than 20 years. He’s a member of a large team of specialists that cared for more than 4,000 heart patients last year.
“Our patients come first,” said Dr. Benner. “I’m proud of the team of specialists I get to work alongside and consult with every day at the hospital and at our outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program at Summerville Medical Center. We’re always learning from each other to provide the best care for our patients, who are increasingly in need of complex medical care.”
For patients with aortic stenosis, one of the most common and most serious heart conditions, Dr. Benner and a team of other heart specialists have performed more than 250 transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedures through minimally invasive surgery.
“TAVR is a last resort for many patients with stenosis. Of all of my patients who I talk to after surgery, they are among the most thankful,” explained Dr. Benner. “We have an experienced team of TAVR specialists like interventional cardiologists Frederick Funke, M.D.; Jason Coker, M.D.; and Patrick Looser, M.D., with Lowcountry Cardiology Associates; and my partner, cardiothoracic surgeon Karen Gersch, M.D., at Palmetto Cardiovascular & Thoracic Associates.”
Trident’s heart specialists agree they are seeing an increase in younger and sicker patients with heart disease. Interventional cardiologist Monique Sandhu, M.D., said it requires the collaboration of all of the specialists to effectively manage the care of patients with increasingly complex heart disease.
“We know and respect each other. And we have each other’s mobile numbers in case we need to quickly reach one of our colleagues about a patient’s care,” explained Dr. Sandhu. “That makes a big differencein an emergency.”
To continue meeting the needs of Lowcountry residents who want their health care provided by the physicians and other clinicians at Trident Medical Center who have earned national rankings for quality and patient experience, the hospital is constructing a third cathlab that is scheduled to open in July 2023.
By Rod Whiting